Edwin Meese III, a former U.S. attorney general appointed by President Ronald Reagan, decried a proposed change in the the American Bar Association's ethics rules as a threat to freedom of speech and religion in letter written with a religious-liberties lawyer Kelly Shackelford.
The professional organization's Model Rule 8.4 would make it an ethics violation to "discriminate on the basis of race … sexual orientation, gender identity … or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law." Critics say the proposal goes too far and would have a chilling effect if it were made part of the rules of conduct governing practicing lawyers.
The rule, "if adopted by state bar associations, would empower those who run state bar associations — largely establishment lawyers — to selectively discipline and even disbar individual lawyers whose values are traditional rather than progressive," say attorneys Herbert W. Titus and William J. Olson, writing in American Thinker.
According to Meese and Shackelford, the proposed rule "is a clear and extraordinary threat to free speech and religious liberty, and if adopted with the force of law by any bar, would be an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment," according to the letter dated Aug. 5 and posted on the Breitbart News website.
The rule change would allow attorneys to be disbarred based on their religious or political views, or for their membership in organizations that express views that could be considered discriminatory, according to Meese and Shackelford.
The idea that certain opinions would be "branded … as so deplorable that they should trigger draconian sanctions is truly noxious to the foundational principles of a free society," they wrote. "Such hostility to those who deviate from the approved orthodoxy resembles the laws and tactics of oppressive regimes around the globe that America unapologetically opposes. It is not an overstatement to say that this proposed rule borders on fascism."
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